Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rude Mechs' Get Your War On

Satirist, David Rees' web-comics are not, perhaps, the most obvious stop for a theatre company looking for material. Rudimentary drawings, printed in either black or red, with no real characters, and little action beyond phone conversations, Rees' Get Your War On series of anti-Bush broadsides is, on one level, the very opposite of spectacular.

"Yes, we have a history of adopting seemingly impossible texts," says Lana Lesley, a member of Austin, Texas-based company Rude Mechanicals, who has travelled to Galway to perform the company's stage version of Get Your War On for the first time outside the United States.

"The design was one of the biggest problems," says Lesley, who stars and also devised the piece along with the rest of the company. "David's cartoons were based on public domain clip art of offices from the 1980s. But when we tried to reproduce that on stage, it just started to look like an old, cheap sitcom."

The company decided that the answer was to use an archetypical piece of 80s office technology to create the scenes. "We decided to use an overheard projector because that is what David often used in creating the strip. It turned out to work very well in giving that kind of flat, neutral feel that the original drawing had."

"Flat" and "neutral," by the way, are terms of approbation here. "In the drawings, because the characters are so stylised, you feel the power of these bizarre things that they are saying very, very personally. And this way, you get that on stage too: it is so neutral and flat that you begin to forget you are watching actors at all – and the words take on a life of their own."

And the words here, of course, are the key. With their special blend of wigga posturing, Neo-Nazi brutality and white collar ignorance, Rees' speech balloons hilariously lampoon the Bush party line. The essential work of Get Your War On, according to Lesley, is offer an antidote, a cure even, for something deadly that she see as afflicting contemporary America.

"In American it is almost a disease we have – having such a short, short term memory. What was interesting about the show was how much it pointed out to people what they had already forgotten from four or five year ago."

"We had a section about the Anthrax alerts and people really had forgotten about that stuff already. They were going 'oh, yeah, they did that too'. This administration has such an extraordinary ability to bury the truth, that we really have to work constantly to keep even the recent past in view…"

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Monday, July 23, 2007

John Shuttleworth's Condiments

"Do you mind if I eat a potato while we talk," says Graham Fellows, or was it John Shuttleworth?

The Sheffield-born writer and comedian (that's Fellows) slips in and out of comic character (that's Shuttleworth) as we speak about their (that's the two of them) new show which explores – Jamie Oliver-like – food politics in the era of globalised production, right?

"Well, that's a bit of a red herring really, like all Shuttleworth shows," says Fellows, somewhat contradictorily. "Although, there are songs about food…like I Can't Go Back to Savoury Now, about the problem of having started your pudding when you find there's more of the first course left…"

Fellows had his first taste of fame many years ago in the punk era when, as a drama student in Manchester, he wrote and released the single, Jilted John. "I wanted to make fun of punk, so I got somebody to tune a guitar to a chord and I just put my finger up and down the neck and made a song."

The song – with its timeless choral chant, "Gordon is a moron" – became a top five hit. "It seems it's more popular than ever now, what with Gordon Brown being Prime Minister. They asked me to record a new version. But that would be a political statement…" And it might lead, as the original did, to a reply song.

In the 1980s, Fellows created the character he has performed ever since, John Shuttleworth, a laconic, unflappable Northerner, deeply susceptible to diversion into the minutiae of life. (This was, comedy historians will note, years before the advent of Johnny Vegas' pottery teacher character.)

"It started as a joke for a friend of mine who worked in music publishing and who got demo tapes from guys like John, with rubbish songs who thought they could become stars."

A Shuttleworth show, then, features plenty of songs of possibly dubious worth: "John's songs are masquerading as crap songs, but are actually quite good, whereas most songs are the opposite…"

It is a formula which has found a regular home in perhaps one of the most unexpected places to find a laconic Northern singer songwriter with a Yamaha organ: BBC Radio 4, where Shuttleworth character has frequently had series.

"He thinks of it as a cultural desert, there on the snooty channel. He's always wishing he could be on hospital radio. At least there he'd probably be broadcasting to somebody he knew…"

* John Shuttleworth plays Budlight Revue, Iveagh Gardens, Sunday 29 July. Full festival details on http://www.budlightrevue.com

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Wednesdays' Screening

So, finally, it happened. The Wednesdays (see here) got a public screening. Many of the people there had bought a ticket (though, in truth, there were loads of other films on the bill). Anyway, it was magic. People laughed in all the right places (and sometimes a lot more heartily than I had imagined). Sitting listening to them all out there in the semi-darkness was one of the nicest experiences i have ever had.

God knows what will happen now, but boy, that was fun.

Among the other films that people (ok, Conor Ferguson and Luke McManus)were saying nice things about were Scumbot (which i stupidly missed) and Frankie (which i saw and can agree about). Frankie, as it happens, was directed by Darren Thornton, formerly of Calipo Theatre Company (whose Love Is The Drug made the journey from theatre to TV-series). It's a hyperspeed steadifly -on-the-wall about a troubled lad on a Drogheda estate who is practising to be a da. And it's worth a look.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Tangiers' Taoub

Picture this. You're on your holidays. Somewhere nice. North Africa, say, Morocco even. After dining on a very agreeable tagine, you go for a stroll on the beach. Did I mention there was a beach? You see, you're in Tangiers. In the twilight. All of a sudden, the pink sky is filled with bodies, flying through the air, soaring, tumbling, spinning by flickering torch-light. It's a wonder, a marvel, it's a troupe of traditional Moroccan acrobats plying their centuries-old trade for the tourists.

In the past, it seems, acrobats adept at creating human pyramids, were used as a form of security for travelling merchants in North Africa. The acrobats would build themselves into a tall tower of humanity and scan the horizon for approaching marauders. Well, it's a nice story, anyway.

These days, they work the beaches.

Now, if you are an average tourist, you smile and store the memory away on your Flickr page. But if you are, say, French director, Aurélien Bory, student of architectural acoustics turned creative force behind Compagnie 111, the Toulouse-based troupe that uses circus performers to create spectacular theatre, other things can happen.

Bory was taking just such a walk in Tangiers one day, when he came across the Hammichs, the seventh generation of acrobatic family, plying the trade on the beach. He had an idea.

That idea became Taoub, a circus-based performance combining the Hammichs' acrobatic skills, along with the theatrical vision of Bory, video projections and acres of fabric, and a healthy dose of North African traditional music.

Like that other recent circus visitors to Dublin, NoFit State Circus, Collectif Acrobatique de Tangier (as the family is now called) has been performing at London's Roundhouse as part of the circus season, Circus Front, an event which aims to showcase the ever expanding field of contemporary circus. Dubliners who missed out on NoFit State's version of "New Circus," (where mood and atmosphere are as important as pure athleticism) can check out this Franco-Moroccan version at the Abbey for the next nine nights.

And Also...

As a kind of warm-up for their Edinburgh Fringe Festival visit this year, Irish-Spanish company, Pasodos Dance Company, founded by Spanish dancer and choreographer, Laura Macias, along with Dublin-born, Gavin de Paor, makes a stop over in Dun Laoghaire (along with a short tour of other Irish venues) with their latest production, Sorry, Love!

The two hander (featuring Macias and de Paor) is by director, Joe O'Byrne. O'Byrne, it seems, is having a busy summer, with a revival of his version of Frank Pig Says Hello, as well as directing, The Revenant, a new piece for Galway Arts Festival in collaboration with Frank Pig author, Pat McCabe and Gavin Friday. The Galway Festival kicks off next Monday, when The Revenant begins previews.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

REVIEW: Honour (Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin)

Only the young middle class think that ordinariness is the greatest terror, according to one character in Joanna Murray Smith's entirely non-bizarre love triangle, Honour. But perhaps this show also might be a little frightened of its middling status, as a middling production of a middling play about middle class characters who behave neither too appallingly to be tolerated, nor well enough to be exemplary. With that kind of balance, it is hardly surprising that excitement is a little lacking.

A confident young journalist, Claudia (typically grating, Fiona O'Shaughnessy) has come to interview George (slightly fuzzy, David Horovitch) a celebrated old journalist. Something passes between them – you might call it a spark, but the word somehow seems wrong here. Far too flashy.

Before you can say 'stupid old goat' George has left his wife of 32 years, Honour (Barbara Brennan) and shacked up with the woman, who is, we discover, only a few years older than his daughter (Marcella Plunkett).

The action happens in short, staccato scenes that zip tidily through the action, pausing for breath every now and then at a crucial meeting between two of the characters. But somehow, the speediness of it all seems designed only to distract us from the sensation that we are moving rather slowly through some very familiar scenery.

Murray-Smith's script contains some nice writing, but relies heavily on unfinished sentences and overlapping dialogue in a manner that brings to mind Harold Pinter at his most testing. It is a style of writing that requires precision from its performers, who must work out some way to let the audience hear the words that are never spoken. The knack, the skill, or perhaps just the inclination is missing here. The energy of the script slips away regularly in a fuzz of mistimed contributions.

Claire Lovett's production (for B*spoke) also has some problems that did not arrive embedded in Murray Smith's demanding script. Somehow, Honour never becomes the tag-team sport it needs to be. Barbara Brennan has the best hit ratio – and perhaps, not coincidentally, the best lines. Her cracks at her straying husband always arrive on time, even if their target never seems to feel much more than a mild sting.

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